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Who should win; who will win

By Maren Longbella

mlongbella@postbulletin.com

This is the first year in many (since 1973) that a number of African-American actors received nominations, making the Oscar race about race.

Without doubt the African-American actor is due, and the nominees are formidable, but will they take home the gold Sunday?

Here are my predictions for the 74th annual Academy Awards.

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Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Connelly probably will get the gold for her supportive turn as John Forbes Nash Jr.'s long-suffering wife in "A Beautiful Mind." But seeing "In the Bedroom's" Marisa Tomei vindicated after years of ridicule for her "My Cousin Vinny" win in this category would be too good to pass up. Whereas Connelly's role was "Hollywoodized" for general consumption (the fact that Nash and his wife were divorced for a period of time is never addressed), Tomei inhabits the role of a grieving woman who can't help blaming herself for the death of someone dear to her. Never is her anguish more apparent than in the moment where her character is slapped. Tomei leaves the scene stunned, but somehow accepting of the gesture, forever convincing the audience of her place among the talented actresses nominated in this category. Connelly may carry home an award, but Tomei will be the true winner.

Best Supporting Actor: The buzz is in Ben Kingsley's corner on this one and with good reason. His turn as tightly controlled gangster Don Logan in "Sexy Beast" leaves any thoughts of the actor as Ghandi in the dust. He does, however, have formidable competition from Jon Voight as Howard Cosell in "Ali."

Both films were little seen, so Ian McKellen could easily steal the statuette for his portrayal as Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring." All told, Kingsley probably will strong arm his way to a win, but Voight probably should.

Best Actress: According to critics, Sissy Spacek should have taken the Oscar home months ago, bypassing the ceremony altogether. This category, however, is ripe for an upset. Halle Berry may well be the first African-American woman to take this category. Berry's performance in "Monster's Ball" is as raw as it gets -- probably a little too raw for voters, making Spacek the likely winner. However, Rene Zellweger may (pleasantly) surprise everyone. The choice of Zellweger as British Bridget Jones in "Bridget Jones's Diary" caused an uproar on both sides of the Atlantic, but -- in true Robert DeNiro-like fashion -- Zellweger packed on the pounds and became the character just as completely as DeNiro did in "Raging Bull." Too bad Academy members rarely vote for comedies. If they did, Zellweger would be making an acceptance speech on Oscar night.

Best Actor: Despite the backlash surrounding "A Beautiful Mind," Russell Crowe will repeat. He is deserving. His is an outstanding performance. Plus the Academy members like to give the Oscar to actors who portray characters with a definable illness or handicap (see Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man," Daniel Day Lewis in "My Left Foot," etc.). As usual, the reward will go to the obvious, ignoring the subtle, or in this case, Tom Wilkinson's performance in "In the Bedroom." Wilkinson is the heart and soul of the film. Spacek has reaped most of the glory, but without Wilkinson, the movie would have been inconceivable. Crowe will win, but Wilkinson should.

Best Picture: The true contenders here are "A Beautiful Mind" and "The Lord of the Rings." Both are beautiful examples of moviemaking, the former portraying schizophrenia in an unprecedented way, and the latter for its sheer scope.

Yes, "A Beautiful Mind" has suffered backlash for sanitizing its subject matter, but "Lord of the Rings" is a fantasy film, which may undercut its importance to voters.

Ultimately, the epic vastness of "Lord of the Rings" will play in its favor, even though "A Beautiful Mind" is probably more deserving for its unique approach to mental illness.

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